Approximately one year ago, I moved to Tallahassee to lead the Florida Institute for Child Welfare (Hereafter called The Institute). The Institute is located on the main campus of Florida State University (Go Noles!). Not only will this blog reflect on this past year, I think it will also help my friends and family who have no idea what I do. (hehe)
Last year was literally a whirlwind! I spent my first 100 days on the job, traveling around the state. Let me provide a little background on the Institute. It was created in sweeping child welfare legislation in 2014 (Senate Bill 1666). The Institute’s foremost responsibility is providing research-informed recommendations to Florida’s legislative policymakers. Our system for child welfare oversight is the Department of Children and Families (DCF), and our Institute is tasked with providing resources and advisement to DCF on workforce matters, service array, and implementation of the practice model. Another important element to the Institute is the statewide affiliates. Which takes me back to my first 100 days in my new role. I traveled around the state to 1) re-introduce the Institute as the new leader, and 2) engage the affiliates and cultivate the statewide relationships. Our affiliate network is comprised of faculty members (mostly), but also some community leaders who are research inclined. We have created a faculty affiliate directory which describes the vast array of Institute affiliate expertise. Our affiliates work at universities, from South Florida to Pensacola. Our Institute has truly mobilized child welfare experts from each coast of Florida.
As I traveled to universities to meet with affiliates, I also met with DCF leadership and Community Based Care agency leaders. During those meetings, I asked each person what was the most pressing child welfare issue that challenged their workforce. With that info, I set out to build a research agenda for the Institute. It has always been important to me, as a researcher, to facilitate research that is relevant, accurate and ethical. Taking time to carefully craft research projects was the best route for improving the lives of children and families.
I tried to wrap my mind around my new role as each day passed. Hearing the challenges that plagued the system was taxing on my emotions. I felt overwhelmed. Then I had to realize at the end of each meeting, that it would take time and strategy to truly make a difference. This would not be fixed over night.
Florida’s Legislative Session began in March of last year and I attended the Children and Families Subcommittee meetings so that I was informed of policy changes and possible funding implications.
After the 100 days of travel and Legislative Session, I was gearing up for a summer filled with professional conferences where I was presenting on the priorities of the Institute. At the same time, I had to approve a budget for next fiscal year and begin writing our annual report. Each year, I am responsible for writing a report of the Institute activities and policy recommendations and this report is submitted to the Governor.
After I submitted the annual report, I began working on several projects for the Department and started the process of hiring two research assistants. All of a sudden, I was glaring at the end of the year and I was panicked. Deadlines were looming and I had quite a few projects that were due in December.
At this point, I was feeling exhausted! So, I decided to…take a vacation! I flew to (Dubai/Thailand!) in November, and when I returned I worked diligently to finish the year strong.
I had a great holiday and after a moderately-severe case of Influenza…I returned to work in this new year with excitement. I have already started setting goals for the Institute and thinking strategically as a leader. Over the past few weeks, I have been reflecting on my first year. If I could sum it up with one word, it would be: Thoughtful.
I spent my first year executing my job in the most thoughtful way that I could. I believe I was successful. I believe I am meant to lead the Institute, at this time. I believe we can help improve Florida’s child welfare system. And, as the leader, it is my goal to equip the Institute to reach even further than Florida.
Year 2, Let’s go!